Climbing photography is a longtime personal obsession. It allows me to get closer to completing, through a series of single-framed shots, a bigger picture that exposes or represents at least a fraction of the culture, the climbing, the landscape, and, to a certain extent, the attitude of different climbing areas both locally and internationally. From behind the lens, I can focus on details that sometimes remain unseen and taken for granted. By sharing them, the next step I’ve taken myself deeply into, I aim to awaken the past, track the present, and bravely inspire a future that will hopefully contribute to the constant progression of Pinoy climbing.
Wawa, Montalban is a constant object of this obsession. I take my camera for summer spins among the slopey river boulders of Wawa and I take it high on the steep, picturesque routes of the Slayer Area. This January, I got to take it out again, but this time, to the hidden limestone found at the Uling Wall.
Uling is a short thirty-minute hike after crossing the hanging bridge connecting the northern and southern banks of Wawa River. The crag faces west and the jungle keeps direct sunlight from hitting the walls. Unlike the routes at the Slayer Area, Uling routes are short, but what it lacks in height, it makes up for quantity. Number of routes easily goes over double and the difficulty ranges from 6a to 7b+.
Anchoring and jumaring my way up on the route “Snake Skins” gave me a vantage point that rendered the houses and boulders running the length of the river banks, and the hanging bridge crossing over it, to ant-size. Before shooting photos from the high angle, I was tempted to liken Wawa to the much celebrated Yosemite Valley in the US. The way the meandering river divided the small settlement, winding out from the limestone gorge and gurgling through the boulders, gave the place a serene feel, far and secluded as it is from the busy city. Immensity goes to Yosemite, but the way it served as home to many an outdoor community locally could very well be the same.
Looking from behind the lens felt like looking through a window to the past. In the short minute just before taking the first photo, I got a glimpse of the start of my outdoor life in the vertical world. I saw the days a decade ago when I’d go to the steeps with Simon Sandoval and Gax Ilanan as an initiate, learning the ropes from the maharishis of local climbing. Even through impending bad weather, we’d brave the elements just to get in as much climbing as possible. We’d bolt, climb, work and get dirty. We’d wring out every drop of climbing we can for each day, going down only when the sun had set and the only light we had was from a single headlamp.
The New Year brings with it many changes. It signals new beginnings and new hopes. I find this most timely as Uling got a face lift during the first week of 2013. It’s inspiring to see new climbers try old routes and it’s equally motivating to see new routes being put up. Gax Ilanan and Xtian Guerrero put up three more routes in the area and possibly more in the coming weeks. It’s amazing to realize that there are still bigger possibilities available at the crag.
There is a reawakening happening in Wawa. Bouldering projects, prospective new lines at Slayer Area, and new lines at Uling Wall are but some of the few nuggets climbers can sink their teeth into this season. The progression from here is something I want to capture. It will be a challenge to be out there more, trying to constantly document the seemingly forward motion that Pinoy climbing is going through this year. It is not impossible, nonetheless, and I’ll be climbing and hanging out on ropes and rigging more, shooting more photos as possible.